Thursday, October 14, 2010

Laneway dump(ling)

In terms of the Sydney dining and drinking market, dumplings and laneways are hot right now. Put anything in a laneway and you’ll get a crowd of some sort. Put dumplings on a menu and I’ll probably order it.

HuTong Dumpling, Market Lane, Melbourne CBD
We headed to Market Lane in Melbourne’s Chinatown with high expectations for dumplings – and no booking. Luckily we were early and got to HuTong Dumpling (directly opposite Flower Drum) before the weekday lunch crowd. Following a bit of walkie-talkie action and table manoeuvring, we were seated in a little corner on the top floor along with some other early lunchers and brunchers.

HuTong Dumpling crockery
The d├ęcor is seriously classy for a dumpling joint – but I guess it’s not just that. Gleaming redwood, ornately carved, and Chinese art fill the third level as does loads of natural light. Traditionally uniformed staff efficiently bus about pots of jasmine tea, refilling teacups for us throughout the meal too. The modern crockery is all imprinted with the HuTong Dumpling logo – we’re dealing with serious players here (see history of Chinese hutong here).

Xiao long bao - pork soup dumplings
Being all about the dumplings, I ordered a couple of varieties, plus a noodle soup. I really would have liked to order many more menu items – but then, I was planning to eat dinner that night. Tiny dishes of ginger slivers come to the table, quickly followed by the xiao long bao. I noticed that the pastry skins are not quite as silky smooth as others, but are equally thin and delicate, which I unfortunately discover with the loss of two soup portions, the bases stuck to the bottom.

I also noticed that the first dumpling didn’t burn my tongue with its soupy inners like those at Din Tai Fung – which means more time between steamer to my table, but also more active tastebuds. The soup is lovely, as too the pork filling, but neither as flavoursome as that of DTF where the filling also feels a bit firmer. While the HuTong XLB don’t have my preference, they had my full, undivided attention at the table.

Pan fried pork dumplings
At least until the other two dishes arrive, filling our small table completely and requiring some Tetris moving of table items. The pan fried dumplings look familiar but have an interesting addition – a golden veil on the bottom that’s thin, crisp and near pointless – but an interesting textural addition nonetheless.

The dumplings themselves have lightly pan-fried bottoms and minced pork filling similar to the XLB; however, I find the pastry too thick,a bit starchy and filling. Copious helpings of the dried chilli oil plus vinegar sauce help to a small extent.

Noodles with eight delicacies in hot chilli sauce
You never know when to take a chilli warning seriously – how hot is 'hot' chilli sauce? Of course, it’s all subject to preferences, cultures, chilli sensitivities and so on. Here, in my view, it’s hot. The bowl is huge; about double the size what I was expecting, and enticingly steaming on arrival. The white noodles were topped with a rich brown tumble of saucy ingredients – the eight delicacies of which I could vaguely identify only four (tofu, shitake mushroom, Spam-like pork cubes and dried shrimp).

The sauce combined with the soup for a double hit of heat, tamed only slightly by my addition of vinegar sauce which went nicely with the savoury flavours of the sauce. I noted that midway through our bowl that the noodles were becoming slowly soggy, taking in the soup – so fast slurping or more mouths to share would be recommended for this bowl.

Tables settings at the top floor
We sat with more tea a little longer as the room turned into a hard-surfaced, loud lunch venue. There’s a small lounge at the top of the stairs on the third level, its purpose of which I’m unsure. Being so rowdy upstairs, it’s not a place I would like to linger post meal so I presume it’s for the waiting crowds.

The top floor at HuTong Dumpling
Descending the top stairs to the second level reveals a very different, but still buzzy, atmosphere. With booths and more open seating, it seems a little more casual and less dressed up, whereas the smaller amount of seating on the ground floor would probably be the most laidback.

I wouldn’t have thought a few dumplings and noodles could fill me so, let alone a three-story laneway building filled to the brim with eager customers. This is no laneway dump – but a laneway dumpling treasure trove.

HuTong Dumpling Bar on Urbanspoon

10 comments:

Betty @ The Hungry Girl said...

I remember reading about this place. It does indeed look like quite the classy dumpling joint! I hate it when the skin is so delicate that the soup pours out! Looks like you had a nice selection of goodies :)

thang @ noodlies said...

I am soooo envious, as you may know from my melbourne posts, i've tried at least three times to go to hutong, but they were always booked out!

chocolatesuze said...

ooh the skin on those xiao long bao are almost see thru! pet peeve of mine is when dumpling skins are too thick but i think i would be equally sad if the skin broke and gushed out their soupy goodness

Tina said...

Hi Betty - It was a lovely place for a morning brunch :) Check it out if you ever get the chance.

Hi thang - Sorry to make you jealous... :S

Hi suze - Yeah, the xlb skins were thin but not quite as smooth as DTF's

OohLookBel said...

Hey Tina, Our photos of the front of HuTong are so similar, we could have been there on the same day, haha! I should have tried the noodles, though the spicy ones look incredibly hot :P Can't wait to see your other Melbourne posts.

Tina said...

Hi Bel - Melb's always grey but it could have been!

john@heneedsfood said...

I did enjoy my brief time at HuTong and really enjoyed the xiao long bao. Next time I'll make sure I have enough time to try more from the menu!

Tina said...

Hi John - I'll need to make more room in my stomach to try more from the menu...!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

My favourite dumplings there were the won tons with chilli oil. Doesn't sound that exciting but they were amazing! :o

Tina said...

Hi Lorraine - They're on of my faves at DTF - but didn't get to try the HuTong ones... :(

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